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How to Live on $0 A Day: Taking Your Life Back From Creditors

07/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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Say you've been paying citibank/chase/amex/bofa $700.00 a month for the past eight years. Despite the fact that you've charged nothing on the card since 1999 and have paid them over twice the original debt, your balance has essentially remained the same.

Say you wake up one morning and decide that in keeping with the new austerity, you're going to stop wasting your entire unemployment check on the mindless hedonistic pleasure of protecting your precious credit rating (like it's not shot already). This month, you're going to try eating, and maybe splurge on something crazy like health insurance. So you stop paying your credit card bills.

Now they're calling you eight to ten times a day and you're cowering in the corner every time the phone rings because you know they'll threaten to ruin your life by denying you the dream of home ownership and deeper debt. It'll go on your record forgodsakes. You'll be a pariah. Probably even in the afterlife. You're doomed.

Okay....take a deep breath. Take a moment to appreciate the irony. Your caller is probably on their third bailout with 33% of the money you made when you were making money and you're begging them not to ruin YOUR credit rating? Time for an attitude re-adjustment.

While your predators may appear bigger and stronger with their fancy phone banks in Asia to torment you, their position is as precarious as yours. Sure, you may feel like the hunted, but what's really going on is a waiting game -- who will go down first, you or them?

So next time they call, answer the phone. While you're on hold, use the time to brace yourself with steely reminders that you're the boss, not them. Try to ignore the fact that they've got you listening to "I will survive" on muzak even though they called you.

Keep a clear head. When a human finally comes on, remember they're just doing their job. They have a college degree and the only reason they're working at a phone bank harassing people is to earn enough money to avoid being harassed themselves.

Once they've listed your payment options, politely but firmly tell them you're giving them one last chance to make you a fair offer. Otherwise, they won't get a cent and you'll be referring the case to the Attorney General and Department of Thrift. Suggest that if citibank/chase/amex/bofa has been banking on you paying them 10 grand a year for the rest of your life only to pass on the same debt you started with to your successors, maybe you can get a package deal on chapter 11 lawyers.

Keep repeating this to the 29 people you get transferred to (think of it as an audio tour of Asia). After several hours and dozens of repetitions, you'll finally get someone who will put your ever growing interest rate, penalties and phone calls on hold while they delve into your history and try to find a resolution.

That gives you a couple of days to cash in your remaining assets, acquire a new identity, and get out of town.